For Kristen Faber, the decision to move to New Zealand was a “do or die” moment. Only time would tell if selling the house, getting rid of possessions and relocating with her husband and three children to Wairoa was the right choice.
The American author describes their ensuing experience in her travel memoir, The Long White Cloud: The year in New Zealand that changed our family forever. Expats and temporary residents will relate to the Faber’s attempts to cook Kiwi dishes, celebrate Christmas in summer and explore the country’s magical scenery.
Faber says writing about their adventures was one way to share her feelings throughout the transition.
“Seeing New Zealand through the eyes of local people, living there as an expat – rather than experiencing it as a tourist – evoked deep emotions in me. There were highs and lows, emotional mountains to climb and valleys to rest in.”
After reading her honest and informative account, I asked the author more about raising a family here, and the week they spent in and around Queenstown, New Zealand.
“Living in the North Island afforded me the time to visit and revisit many places. I was able to get to know places intimately and fall in love with them, not just from the window of a tour bus, but through time and exploration. I’d like to have that type of experience in the South Island as well.”
Q: You say your trip to the South Island “whetted my appetite to return.” If you could come back and spend more time in the South Island, what would your itinerary look like?
A: We often don’t take the time to dream. To simply close our eyes and see distant lands, full of hope and adventure. My best journeys began with a dream that worked out over time and cam to fruition. But that period of yearning, and trial and error planning, made the realization of the dream that much sweeter. Spending more time in the South Island is one such dream.
Fiordland is considered one of the most beautiful places in the world, it offers an opportunity to observe a wide variety of sea life and birds. I would like time to tramp through the rainforest of Milford Track and dive in Milford Sound. I want to take a scenic boat cruise in Doubtful Sound and Kayak through Fiordland’s waters. It’s one of those unique areas in the world that I would really like to focus on.
Q: You also mention that in NZ, “wine is like water.” Were you able to try – or have any opinion on – Central Otago’s world renowned Pinot Noir?
A: My introduction to the world of wine was while we were living in New Zealand. The local cellar offered a monthly wine club. Each meeting a wine rep. or vineyard owner was brought in to showcase their products. The meetings were jovial but included a lot of education as well. I had the opportunity to sip and taste wines from all over the country. I have a sweet tooth and that has carried over to wines as well.
The fruity aspect of Central Otago’s Pinot Noir appeals to me. When I am able to find a bottle, wherever we are currently living, I tuck it away until I prepare salmon, invite some friends over and enjoy a glass and everything else that goes with a well paired meal.
Q: What about New Zealand culture do you think is conducive to raising a family?
A: In New Zealand, a kid can be a kid. The friendly environment aids in a sense of community. The children feel a part of a greater whole. There are many opportunities for kids to be involved in sports and music, yet the culture is not wrapped up only in achieving, there is plenty of time to go to the batch for the weekend or take a tramp as a family. The land itself is ideal for children. The air is clean, the meat and dairy is naturally organic. Outdoor activities are abundant. From a mom’s perspective, New Zealand offered my children a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle.
Q: What are your top five favorite family activities in New Zealand?
A: Five of my favorite actives we did as a family that were unique to being expats. These are experiences we still reminisce about and were unique to our time there.
1. Time in the kitchen - As an expat, you wish for the taste of home. When the days get long and your heart is yearning for the familiar, food is the first topic that will come up. The kids had their favorites that they missed, so we often turned to the internet and googled how to create something we were longing for. We cooked and baked together then sat down and enjoyed eating together. Some things were a great success and others a major failure. But all of the time in the kitchen created memories and skills that will last forever.
2. Trying something new - New Zealand opened up a whole new world for us from the food, to the sports, to the lifestyle. We made an evening of trying fried moro bars in the park. The kids learned to waterski, row, play netball, field hockey and squash. We learned to knit and borrowed a spinning wheel to try making our own yarn. Each of these things became family endeavors that grew us closer. Sometimes they created a lot of laughter, but even when we failed, we were there cheering each other on in the new adventure. When we talk about these experiences, it takes each of us back to those days when we only had one another to rely on and new experiences to try.
3. Relationships with locals - We are folks from the suburbs. We love large cities, shiny stores and fancy restaurants. Suddenly, we found ourselves living in a small, rural town. Everything was different. A new opportunity was waiting around every corner. Through friends made at school and in the neighborhood, my kids came home every day with a new experience to talk about. From a new word they learned, to a different way of doing things, to the freedom of living in the country, each day presented an adventure. We marveled at the differences, but quickly my kids learned that there were more similarities. Kids are kids. They love to laugh and play and have fun–no matter where you live in the world.
4. Take advantage of local clubs and interest groups - Small towns in New Zealand offer many opportunities to find your niche. Clubs and interest groups are always happy to have newcomers. They lend a helping hand as you stumble your way through trying something new. Locals find great pleasure in sharing what they love. The more you get involved, the more friendly faces you recognize around town.
5. Look at the world through the eyes of others - Although New Zealand doesn’t seem strikingly different from America, we found that many things, including the language, were different enough to take notice. It’s very easy, as human beings, to become critical of the different ways people do things. We worked very hard with our children to take each new difference and look at it in a positive way. We may be more comfortable with the way we did something back home, but that doesn’t make our old ways better. Sometimes they are just different and other times we learn something better.
Q: What advice do you have for someone wanting to move to New Zealand?
A: Moving to a foreign country is a big step. Home is no longer just around the corner, it’s several flights away. You will live in a different time zone, so that will limit the available hours to call home. Sometimes internet can be touch and go making Skype conversations frustrating. It’s expensive to move across the country, and much more so to move to another continent. There will be periods of loneliness, even after you settle in and make friends because Christmas just isn’t quite the same without family to celebrate with.
But when you consider the cost, if you still long to live in New Zealand and reap the benefits of a life there, do your research. What Island do you want to live on? Do you want to live in a small, remote town or one of the cities? What type of access do you need to medical and other amenities?
If you have children, make this a family decision and adventure. Your excitement will wear off on the kids, but be honest with them about your sadness of leaving Grandma and Grandpa. Let them cry, then dry their tears and hug them. Walk with them through the ups and downs of the transition and make sure they know that their feelings are one hundred percent valid.